For a long time it was assumed that nitric oxide – it is a dangerous poison found in smog, car exhaust and acid rain. Much of this is true, but it has recently been revealed that nitric oxide also functions as an important neurotransmitter in the body. This gas has a beneficial effect on blood vessels, and its toxic properties protect the body from bacteria and viruses.
The positive effects of nitric oxide only became known in the 1980s. A group of specialists in cardiovascular diseases discovered that nitric oxide is emitted not only by car engines, but also by the human body. This discovery by American scientists earned them the Nobel Prize in 1998.
Nitric oxide formation
The human body produces nitric oxide in the paranasal sinuses every time you breathe in through your nose. The gas enters the lungs with the flow of inhaled air. It ensures uniform blood flow and improves the exchange of oxygen and carbon dioxide between the alveoli. This is why breathing through the nose is much healthier than breathing through the mouth.
Nitric oxide is produced by endothelial cells throughout the body. Its production is triggered by changes in blood flow and pressure on blood vessels, such as during exercise or hypoxia-hyperoxia training.
Nitric oxide action
Nitric oxide is a rapidly evaporating gas that is produced immediately at its site of action. Once formed, nitric oxide rapidly penetrates into muscle tissue through the inner wall of the blood vessels. This promotes muscle relaxation, greater blood flow throughout the body, and a decrease in blood pressure.
Nitric oxide, as a neurotransmitter, also smoothes the walls of blood vessels so that platelets and blood cells traveling along them do not stick to them or stick together.
Nitric oxide triggers a chain of reactions depending on where it is formed:
- when produced in the heart, it causes dilatation of the coronary arteries: improved blood circulation leads to increased body performance.
- in the penis, nitric oxide promotes erection: more blood enters the erectile tissue when the blood vessels dilate;
- in the brain, the gas strengthens contacts between nerve cells, improving memory and perception. For immune cells, nitric oxide provides powerful protection against bacteria, viruses and cancer cells.
Nitric Oxide and COVID-19
There is growing evidence that nitric oxide is produced in the paranasal sinuses to fight viruses and bacteria. So, breathing through the nose alone does not provide complete protection against SARS CoV-2 and other viruses, but it is an important preventive measure .
Recent research also shows that nitric oxide may play a role in protecting against SARS-CoV-2, the virus that causes COVID-19 . This gas has also been used effectively to treat patients with severe acute respiratory syndrome who have developed pneumonia . The close affinity of the severe acute respiratory syndrome virus with the coronavirus suggests that nitric oxide may also increase survival of vulnerable cells.
Nitric oxide applications in emergency medicine
Nitric oxide is used in medicine as an emergency treatment for circulatory disorders of the heart because of its rapid action. So-called nitrosprays relieve coronary artery spasm (angina pectoris) within seconds of a single spray on the tongue.
Nitric oxide, which was once thought to be harmful, thus has a wide range of beneficial effects on the human body. It is produced by the body in response to changes in blood flow and pressure and can help improve circulation, lower blood pressure and protect the body from bacteria and viruses. Its toxic properties are useful in emergency medicine, and it may play a role in protecting the body from COVID-19.
In addition, its toxic properties are useful in emergency medicine.